Space 2.0

I’ve been accused of inventing the term “Space 2.0”, but I know I stole it. Anyway, adding “2.0” to a concept is a thing, so at best I co-invented it. What I mean by the term is the advent of space infrastructure affordances such as reusable rocket stages and space capsules. As of this post, only SpaceX is doing Space 2.0, but Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, and Electron are approaching it. Higher version numbers I reserve for additional major advances, such as Starship/New Glenn, anti-Kessler Syndrome cleanup bots (getting rid of orbital debris that threatens the whole space enterprise), use of solar/magnetic sails, and nuclear thermal propulsion. My big space hope is to witness the development of an exponentially growing space economy utilizing in situ material and energy resources, working towards Space 3.0 in which the vast majority of material usage in space comes not from Earth but from extraterrestrial resources. “Vitamins” (again, a term not of my invention) such as microelectronics and specialty chemicals could still come from Earth in my Space 3.0. Once that economy exists, anything futuristic like terraforming, space colonies, or interstellar travel will be able to happen organically, if it happens at all. I myself played a small role in bringing about Space 2.x by helping crowdfund The Planetary Society’s Lightsail 2, currently still in orbit and raising its apogee with solar photon pressure (alas, its perigee is essentially in the upper atmosphere so it is doomed).

Back when G+ was a thing, one of my regular habits was to post photoessays of cropped and captioned screenshots taken during rocket launches or other space activities, usually Falcon 9 launches/landings but sometimes Bigelow module operations, resupply berthings, space walks, or whatever. Somehow The Algorithm decided I was a notable personality on G+ and promoted one of my posts. I suddenly got hundreds of thousands of followers. Probably >99% bots, but with about 100-200 folks who could be counted on to +1 my little collections. As it turns out, getting the equivalent of +1s is all I “need” from social media, from the dopamine-rush micro-reward perspective. Shortly after so becoming micro-famous, I was contacted by a flattery G+ person or bot who “thought” I might like to do free software testing work for them in exchange for having access to new G+ features early. Heh. If I ever do software testing again, I would need a salary commensurate with my experience, abilities, and desire to not work in the software industry. I brushed them off with the (true) “I want less social media, not more” excuse, but really I didn’t trust myself to write a polite version of “that’s kind of an asshat move, asking me to do hundred dollar an hour work for zero dollars”. I now suspect the whole thing was a desperate G+ scam to try to somehow save the platform by recruiting volunteers.

Anyway, back to Space 2.0. Space operations are going to become ridiculously cheap compared to Space 1.0, making existing human space travel more economical and reifying some science fictional concepts. This has led to some rather hyperbolic chatter. My personal feeling is that ambitious projects for creating a so-called independent extraterrestrial branch of civilization from scratch are misguided in the sense that they are premature. To be sure, I love reading and conceptualizing about various project proposals, but simple continuous expansion of space activities (I advocate an “orbit all the things” approach) will lead to this sort of project naturally. They are so large-scale and complex that they won’t happen until we have the needed assets in space anyway. We should simply foster the exponentially growing economy I hope for and allow the magic of that kind of math to do the work of emplacing those assets, without diverting resources into premature grandiosity. When it is time to go railroading, one or more larger-than life personalities will emerge to conduct the operations.